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Feighan: ‘This is Us’ tragedy is a wake-up call

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

It wasn’t the New England Patriots’ loss in the Super Bowl that caused an outpouring of ugly crying on Sunday night.

Those tears were from “This is Us” fans after finally learning what killed beloved character Jack Pearson on the hit NBC cry-fest.

After months of build-up, Pearson went into cardiac arrest just hours after heroically saving his family during a massive fire. And what caused the fire? A faulty Crock-Pot.

Fans were aghast. Some were so upset that they pitched their slow cookers. Crock-Pot, which bills itself as the original slow cooker, quickly went on the defensive, issuing a statement and reassuring users that its products are rigorously tested for safety.

“Tuesday’s episode literally freaked me out about using my Crock Pot,” wrote one fan on Crock-Pot’s Facebook page.

Milo Ventimiglia, the actor who plays Pearson, even did a commercial for Crock-Pot that ran during Sunday’s Super Bowl. It ends with him serving himself up, of course, a hearty bowl of chili cooked in a Crock-Pot and the hashtag “#CrockPotisinnocent.”

But could a slow cooker spark a fire that eventually engulfs an entire house?

Fires caused by small appliances are not very common, “but they’re not uncommon,” says Wixom Fire Chief Jeff Roberts, president of the Southeastern Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs.

“Part of the problem is things are being made much more economically and not all appliances are tested to UL (a safety organization),” said Roberts.

Roberts isn’t a “This is Us” fan but watched Sunday’s episode and the previous one with his girlfriend Bren, who loves the show. He said one part of the storyline that definitely got some Hollywood treatment was the speed at which the slow cooker fire burned through the kitchen wall, counter and curtains.

“Your drywall has a 30-minute fire rating,” he said. “Drywall is very important because it protects the wood studs. Drywall, which is a fireboard, is designed to withstand fire for 30 minutes.”

In a report earlier this week, Consumer Reports examined the data on appliance fires from the Federal Emergency Management Agency from 2012 through 2015, the most recent data available, and found 103 fires caused by slow cookers, resulting in two injuries, no fatalities, and almost $1.6 million in property damage, according to the report.

The bigger cause of house fires when it comes to countertop kitchen appliances is microwaves, toaster and toaster ovens and coffeemakers, according to Consumer Reports.

Still, maybe Jack’s death, fictional or not, is a reminder to take better care of our appliances and look for warning signs. Roberts says clean old crumbs out of the toaster, keep your dryer vent clean and unplug appliances you don’t use regularly, such as the toaster or a blender.

“It’s a good, safe practice to unplug them,” he said.

And above all else, have a working smoke detector (Jack and Rebecca chatted about theirs just minutes before his death). Michigan has already had 18 fire fatalities this year, most of which were the result of faulty smoke detectors, or detectors that had been dismantled or had a battery removed, said Roberts.

“There’s really no excuse today for a home not to have at least one working smoke detector,” he said. “Working smoke detectors do save lives.”

Twitter: @mfeighan